Top Environmental Stressors in Crop Production
Of all of the things that affect crop production, the environment is the single-most influential factor. Both the positive benefits and the negative stressors created by the environment not only affect plant growth and the actual yield attained at harvest — they also play a critical role in whether a plant will be able to reach its full genetic potential.
What are the stressors?
Rain, cold, heat and even the wind — the same meteorological factors that assist in crop growth — can also become great villains when they occur in excess, causing damage and destruction. Environmental stress can reduce plant productivity and overall crop production, resulting in economic instability for the farmer. Biotechnology is one weapon of choice when combating the adverse impacts caused by meteorological factors.
- Flooding can lead to soil erosion, a decrease in oxygen supply and an increase in disease risk. Developmental challenges also mean lower crop yields and higher weed competition pressure.
- Drought can result in stunted plants and limited root growth. Crop yields can decrease, and growers are more likely to cut their total planted acreage in order to limit their probable losses.
- Extreme weather, such as hail and high winds, can not only damage leaves, flowers and fruit but can break or detach them altogether, significantly impacting productivity.
- Freezing temperatures and frost can damage plants via the ice crystals that form. These crystals can cut plant cells, damage and kill flowers during the flowering period and even kill the entire plant.
What happens when plants are stressed?
Winter rains and snow ensure adequate soil moisture in preparation for the following season. However, as changes in climate affect agricultural cycles and conditions, farmers frequently face cold soils at planting, which result in plants taking more time and energy to establish themselves.
“Injuries caused by these stress factors can result in delayed establishment and development, or even the complete loss of hectares of crop,” explained Nicolas Body, Alltech Crop Science European technical manager. “Improving the soil microbiology and enhancing a well-structured root system creates the circumstances to help plants better resist and overcome these stressful situations.”
Reactions to stress can range from slightly burned leaves to the death of plant tissue, both below- and above-ground.
“This causes the plant to suffer a long period of environmental stress and to reduce the initial grubbing up, impacting its size and productive potential,” Body continued.
At these stages, the leaves are small and fragile, and the plant expends a lot of energy to recover from environmental damage.
How to combat environmental stressors
It is important to keep the soil and plants nourished, even before the seeds are planted. Providing balanced nutrition beginning at the very early stages of the plant’s life and throughout the entire crop cycle can help prepare the plant to face any environmental stressors.
- Before planting, growers should look at soil tests to identify any areas that need help so as to improve the soil’s microbial activity and nutrient availability. By improving the soil’s organic matter, there could also be an increase in the soil’s ability to hold and drain moisture, depending on need. Nutrients become more available to roots, and the improved nature of the soil allows those roots to grow further and spread out more, creating a stronger base for the plants and boosting their ability to reduce plant stress throughout the seasons.
- After planting, ensuring that plants are able to find and use important nutrients at the necessary levels is integral to decreasing the effect that environmental stressors can have on the plants. A fortified plant is better able to withstand stronger winds and can bounce back from hail damage more effectively.
- Biostimulant technologies can be used to promote the plant’s root growth and its development and productivity.
How do biostimulants help plants?
Biostimulants can act on plant physiology as signalling molecules to improve the plant’s ability to resist stress and improve its response to those stressors. Noticeable improvements can be seen in plant processes such as:
- The establishment, setting and bulking of fruit or grain
- The ability to face some of the biggest agricultural challenges — abiotic stresses like drought and salinity
The Alltech Crop Science (ACS) range of soil and performance solutions uses biotechnology to promote increased root growth, balanced nutrition and improved performance in plants. Nutritionally balanced and complexed with high-quality amino acids, Alltech Crop Science solutions allow for more rapid absorption and the improved movement of nutrients throughout the plant to where they are most needed, promoting increased quality and productivity.
As an agronomic segment, cereals and grains are expected to become the largest market share for the use of biologicals, due to higher demands for environmentally friendly fertilizers and bans on chemicals used as inputs in agriculture.
“It's a new frontier,” said Body. “Biologicals could contribute to the ability to stimulate the plant's own capacity for biochemical responses against stress factors.”
Body also pointed out two additional key benefits from the increased use of this technology.
“A greater global use of biologicals could help in improving chemically treated lands and water sources,” he said. “Their use can reduce the use of pesticides and will improve the efficient use of nutrients such as nitrogen.”
Growers are choosing more natural ways to manage their productions in an effort to be more sustainable. They are naturally strengthening their plants and making them less susceptible to the damages that can be incurred by the environmental stressors that vary from year to year. Increased soil and plant health — as well as the consequent increased productivity — make these naturally based technologies and investments well worth it.